Bioengineers have compiled a set of recommendations that could significantly reduce concussions and other head injuries in rugby union, having assessed how head impacts and movement vary based on the position on the body where tackles are made, according to Eurek Alert!. The bioengineers discovered that the risks are not precisely the same for the two groups, as tacklers are at higher risk of a head injury assessment (HIA) than ball carriers. Chief among the findings is the discovery that tackles made to the lower trunk of the ball carrier’s body (roughly around the pelvis) – as opposed to the upper trunk (chest and shoulders) or upper legs (thighs and knees) – lead to a reduced risk of tacklers receiving head injury assessments (HIAs).
Additionally, the bioengineers used 3D motion analysis lab trials with professional rugby players and model-based image-matching techniques to examine the effect of tackles made at different points on the body. They measured resultant head kinematics and compared these with concussion injury thresholds to draw up their recommendations.
The work was conducted over a number of years by Associate Professor, Ciaran Simms, and PhD Researcher, Gregory Tierney, from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Engineering and Centre for Bioengineering.
Prevention strategies should place emphasis on tackling lower-risk body regions such as the lower trunk, as nearly four out of five (77%) tackler HIAs are caused by tackles to the upper trunk (47%) and upper legs (30%). Specific tackler recommendations include:
- Make contact at the lower trunk
- Take shorter, faster steps when approaching the ball carrier
- Avoid planting feet
- Keep head up and face the ball carrier
- Do not look at the ground
- Place head on the correct side of the ball carrier
- Protecting the ball carrier
The bioengineers found that high-impact tackles to the upper trunk (with no head contact) can cause ball carrier head motion similar to that reported for concussion injuries, but tackling the mid/lower body trunk could reduce this by around 50%. This was shown by computer modelling and motion analysis lab trials.
“The findings from this project provide an evidence base, at the elite level, for coaches to develop and implement technical-based concussion prevention strategies for players,” said Tierney.